Half Of Communications Should Be Listening

Earlier in April I was in London at our Europe, Middle East & N Africa region conference. One of the topics, by incoming EMENA Region Chair Klavs Valskov, AB’s Katie Macaulay and HSBC’s Ulrike Felber, was especially good : on the value of listening and power of ‘employee voice’.

“No-one is as smart as everyone” said Katie, adding that social media is a behaviour, not a tool.

Through my year as International Chair I’ve tried to incorporate this kind of philosophy as much as possible, listening hard to others, and inviting challenge as part of developing ideas for the future.

Thus it was that last Thursday I chaired a focus group at Pfizer’s New York World Headquarters of senior communicators, brought together for us by NY IABC Chapter Chair Bob Libbey and Past IABC International Chair, Mark Schumann.

The group, mostly non-, or lapsed members, were united in the potential of IABC to make a global difference for and by communicators and to be a stronger voice for the profession in the business and wider world.

“But at the moment, IABC is just talking to itself” one retorted.  “Unless you sort your external communications out, no-one will hear you” (an ironic moment, because until it was dropped last year IABC was using the infamous tagline “Be Heard”).

It’s often said that to the outside world IABC is just a well-kept secret.

Some of our chapters are very happily introspective, yet the quality of members and their work  (just look at the brilliance of this year’s Gold Quill entries, with over 300 Award winners) means this is a huge untapped resource. The Association, business and society at large are all losing out.

So we’ve created a new international standing committee devoted to improving our external communications and to putting IABC more on the map much more effectively among three distinct audiences.

Those audiences are:

(1) communicators, globally, who are not traditional members of IABC but who will nevertheless attend events and speak well of us;

(2) industry media and stakeholders, with whom we can also present a campaigning platform for the profession and

(3) the wider business community, so it comes to recognise the value which effective communications, and IABC specifically, can add to their firm’s success.

Expect to hear more soon.

This, together with our new brand (to be publicly launched in June) and refresher media training for our Vice Chair, Chair and Past Chair, means we will in the future speak more powerfully for IABC, the industry and business.

Thank you for listening.

Mental Health : Being Prepared To Act

The awful events of the Germanwings plane crash last month in the French Alps brought to the fore an issue we don’t like to discuss too often : mental health.

After the initial shock of a pilot who had intentionally downed a plane, taking 149 others with him, the media began to raise poor mental health management as a culprit.

In Communications, as the pressure to deliver faster with less across a wider range of channels -often interactively – increases, mental health is a growing issue.  And while I say this as someone running  (therefore responsible for the welfare and wellness of) a large (100+) team, the pressures on those acting as independent consultants are equally as great at times.

Increasingly, we need to recognise the signs in our teams (and sometimes in ourselves!) and act to provide support (or sometimes not be afraid to seek it).

This is not an area IABC has yet ventured to campaign on, but it is one we might; as we increasingly raise our sights, and aim to attend to the wider issues facing the profession.

It is, reasonably, at least as important as for example sustainability or ethics : arguably, it is linked to both.

In extremis, but sadly not infrequently, substance abuse, adultery and health problems are the common results of an industry pushing too hard.

Incidents like the Germanwings crash don’t help; on the contrary, they can demonise the issue of mental health.  Yet on average 1 in 4 people will experience some mental health issue at some stage in their career.

Groups including the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and Mental Health America (MHA) are trying to reframe the conversation to focus on the reality that most people with depression or other psychiatric diagnoses are almost never violent but that, instead, it is a silent denuder : of people and of course of productivity.

It has been reported (in PRWeek and other places) that Andreas Lubitz may have been afraid to tell his employer about what he was dealing with.

In an at-times intense profession like Communications, we should never let this be the case, and as managers – as well as an organisation representing  the profession globally – be prepared to act.